Game of Thrones Series 7 reaches the penultimate episode and it’s a cracker. The penultimate episode of a Thrones series is often the most momentous. Just remember ‘Baelor’, ‘The Rains of Castamere’ or ‘Battle of the Bastards’. ‘Beyond the Wall’ easily ranks alongside these heavyweights.
In a slightly extended instalment, the focus is largely on a trip beyond the wall. Although King’s Landing and Oldtown feature in the title sequence none of the episode is spent in those locations. Events beyond the wall seen in this episode will of course impact on the whole of Westeros. Instead there are multiple scenes throughout the episode chronicling Jon Snow’s mission with his motley crew. This peculiar band of brothers share their thoughts on the cold and how to combat it. Gendry whinges to the Brotherhood Without Banners. Jon and Jorah discuss the rightful holder of Longclaw. All of this is merely the appetiser to a significant confrontation but we’ll get to that. Outside of the Wight Hunt there are other significant developments in Winterfell.
All is not well in Winterfell
Arya and Sansa have a proper falling out. For those unsure what was on the parchment which Arya discovered last week she kindly reads the whole thing out loud. I previously mentioned notable penultimate episodes in Game of Thrones series. It is extraordinary to think that the events of the penultimate episode of the very first series are still having repercussions. The death of Ned Stark still reverberates with his daughters, witnesses to the event. As a result there is deep anger on each side. Both have endured a lot, not least witnessing the execution of their father. Sansa has also had to contend with the Lannisters plus the sadistic Joffrey and Ramsey Bolton. Arya’s journey has been equally eventful. Although reunited they appear more divided.
It is hard not to deduce that the discord has been created by Littlefinger. As for his reasoning only time will tell on that front but a safe guess would be his own desire for power. But yet Sansa seeks his advice to protect herself in the role as Lady of Winterfell. However it is when she discovers some of Arya’s alternate identities that things turn very dark. Maisie Williams is absolutely gripping as she approaches her older sister, knife in hand. Whilst Sansa is frankly pompous to Brienne of Tarth she is reduced to a scared child by her own flesh and blood. It is a chilling reminder that although Sansa is Lady of Winterfell the real power could lie with a faceless Arya.
Meanwhile in Dragonstone, Tyrion and Daenerys discuss heroes and the prospect of a meeting between Daenerys and Cersei. But curiously it is the discussion of a succession plan which is perhaps the most intriguing. Perhaps Tyrion does indeed have eyes for the Iron Throne after all? Quite rightly she needs to be sat on the throne first before such long-term planning can be considered. Yet it is what Daenerys decides to do with her dragons which makes this episode so memorable.
The Wight Hunt
Before Jon Snow and his accomplices even reach the White Walkers they fall victim to the attention of an undead snow bear. Although only a short fight it highlights the danger of the mission. The location work for these sequences is stunning. Vast wide shots of the snowy landscape demonstrate the desolate environment beyond the wall. Add into that a battle against the Army of the Dead and you have unforgettable Game of Thrones on your hands.
Being able to pull off an epic battle is one thing. But to deliver the same physical conflict with the additional handicap of having the majority of the combatants being undead is another challenge altogether. Scale is not an issue and has been delivered on many occasions. It is perhaps in the closer work that proves to be so impressive. Ray Harryhausen’s famed skeleton battle in ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ was mind-blowing for 1963. Things have obviously moved on a lot since then but Game of Thrones has raised the bar even further and all on a supposed television budget. A simple shot of a skeletal warrior crossing the ice is impeccably done. That same standard is then extended to swordplay and combat in close quarters. It is spectacular stuff.
Daenerys’ dragons have been a predicted method of combating the Night King and his army for a while now. However I expected that to be saved for the final season. To be given this battle between fire and ice early came as a pleasant surprise. Once again this series the flame-throwing ability of the Targaryen dragons is difficult to combat or defend against. The Lannister army was no match to it and neither is the Army of the Dead. What was a less enjoyable surprise was seeing Viserion impaled by a spear. It is a devastating moment, not least for Daenerys, one which Jon also recognises. Added significance to his demise is provided in one of the most dramatic conclusions in Game of Thrones history.
A certain section of Game of Thrones fans will delight in the penultimate scene as Jon and Daenerys bond emotionally, if not physically. However it was the final scene which had me literally clenching my hands behind my head in shock. That moment when it finally dawns on you that they are pulling out Viserion’s body from the lake draws a very sharp intake of breath. After an excruciatingly long few seconds of tension building his eye snaps open and catches any remaining breath left in the viewer’s body. The Night King’s army, seemingly vulnerable to Daenerys’ dragons, have levelled the playing field immediately. With an undead dragon to contend with in Game of Thrones, this revelation is nothing short of a game-changer.